Every time we go out to cabin at Lake Tahoe, technically Fallen Leaf Lake, we have to go up Mount Tallac (to see our buddy the Marmot!). Mount Tallac, in all of its splendor, offers up one of the most breathtaking views you can experience in a day hike. It’s a challenging hike but certainly doable in a day as long as you’ve acclimated yourself to the higher altitudes, bring plenty of water and food, and take it easy. Hiking at altitude is all about slow and steady.
How high is Mount Tallac? 9,739 feet above sea level though the trail starts at around 6489 feet, so you’re talking around 3,250 feet of elevation gain. It’s considered “difficult” by the US Forest Service but it’s totally worth it!
Mount Tallac Trailhead
To reach the trailhead for Mount Tallac, head north on CA-89 from the intersection of CA-89 and U.S. Highway 50. After about four miles, you will see a turnoff on the left for Camp Shelly and the mount Tallac trailhead. On that road, take the first left fork and then stay on the right on Forest Road 1306. You’ll run right into the parking area and the trailhead. Get yourself a wilderness permit for a day-hike.
Hiking to Floating Island Lake
The first bit of the hike will test you at altitude but it isn’t too difficult otherwise. You will get onto a ridge about half a mile in and it gives you a great view of south Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake (below is a shot of that view of Fallen Leaf Lake, Tahoe is to the left beyond that tall tree). We’ve always hiked this area in the early morning on our way to Mount Tallac (to reach it by noon, you’ll want to get going early) so our views are always with that morning sun and absolutely gorgeous. The trail follows the west side of Fallen Leaf Lake and you enter the Desolation Wilderness right before you reach Floating Island (there will be a large sign). Enjoy the views and remember the lake, because it’ll look small as you hike up to Mount Tallac!
Floating Island Lake is about a mile and a half away from the trailhead and you’ll almost happen on it without realizing it. The origins of the lake’s name come from a 20′ diameter “floating island” of grass and shrubs back in 1890. When we visited four years ago, there were a few “islands” floating about but we didn’t see any this time around.
If you continue on the trail, Cathedral Lake is a little over half a mile away (over 2 miles away from the trailhead). There’s a bit of an ascent but it’s an otherwise manageable trail through partially shaded woods and plenty of wildflowers.
I’m a big fan of Cathedral Lake despite it’s somewhat smaller size. I think the far side of the lake, from where you come upon it, and it’s wall of rock is impressive to look at. The lake is named after Cathedral Peak, which is itself part of the Cathedral Range.
From here, we make our ascent towards Mount Tallac – which will be a post for another day!